Ground rules and tools for November
  Fall is the season for harvesting pumpkins, moving shrubs, establishing good root system for plants

November 4, 2004

Victoria County
Master Gardeners

Early November brings to mind turning leaves and fall color with the harvesting of pumpkins, gourds and colored corn for fall decorating, and then the beginning of the holiday season at the end of the month with Thanksgiving just around the corner. These are visual images, but we should also make note of general gardening practices that are also in season this month.

We are entering the best time to move shrubs, vines or small seedling trees. Since temperatures are cooler, this helps minimize plant shock and gives them enough time to establish a good root system before the next summer. When transplanting, always dig around a shrub as far out as possible. Once the roots are removed, tilt the root ball to the side and slide it onto a tarp. By sliding the plant to a new location, you can cut down on needless back-breaking labor. Make sure to place the plant at the same level at which it was growing before - and water it well.

Hold off pruning woody plants. December through February is the best time to prune them. It is OK to prune berrying plants, such as holly and yaupon, to enjoy them in holiday arrangements.

This is also a great time to plant oriental persimmon trees. As with other fruit trees, plant the varieties that do best in this area. Having any fruitful crop requires some time for investigating, so do the homework and call your extension agent or drop by to find out the best fruit and nut varieties for this area. By choosing varieties carefully, selecting the right location and preparing the soil right, that long-term investment will yield a worthwhile return. Since pecan season will soon be over, pick up some extra pecans for long-term storage. The best way to store your pecans is to crack, shell and place them in a Ziploc freezer bag or place them in a sealed jar in the refrigerator or freezer. Outside the house, pick up old pecans that did not mature or that fell due to disease or insects. Either crush and compost them or discard them to minimize disease and insect problems in 2005.

A problem that has surfaced this year with fruit trees is that some are blooming prematurely. Too much rain earlier in the season and stressful growing conditions are but two things that could possibly have caused some confusion for Mother Nature. These stresses usually cause the leaves to drop too early, which starts the blooming cycle. Another culprit is premature leaf defoliation caused by either insects or disease infestation.

Early blooms can further weaken plants, making them susceptible to disease. If the weather stays dry and cools off as it normally does this time of year, the flower buds will dry and/or fruit will fall off when winter arrives. Next year's blooms and fruit crop will be determined by what type of winter we experience. There is not much you can do with a fruit tree blooming prematurely. The best advice is to manage trees so the stress is minimized, reducing off-season blooming.

Three bugs that have been problematic for the homeowner recently are the burrower bug, the datana caterpillar and the armyworm. The burrower bug burrows itself into the soil, sucking at plant roots. While that is not the reported problem, but congregating near porch lights is, darkening outside lights around your house will help keep them at bay. Most die after one day but can be treated with a pesticide such as Sevin, if necessary.

The datana caterpillar, another emerging fall season pest, has already been reported and can defoliate a live oak if not controlled. This can be dangerous for the tree because it opens it up to disease and insect pests. Check your trees on a weekly basis for limbs that are devoid of leaves and, if so, treat immediately with an insecticide, preferably Bt.

Datana caterpillars have been reported recently on live oak trees and can completely defoliate leaves from tree branches if not controlled.  To treat them, spray the leaves close by the area with a pesticide such as Bacillus thuringiensis, known as Bt. (Notice the red wasp in the photo, to the right edge, looking for his next meal.)

Armyworms have been reported in some areas of Victoria County, eating what they love best - grass. This means you should check your lawn, especially if it is a bermudagrass lawn, which armyworms go to first. If found, as few as four per square foot will damage your lawn. Control can be accomplished by spraying any of the very safe Bt products or other insecticides, which are labeled for armyworms.

With winter just weeks away, continue setting out cool-season bedding plants, particularly pansies, snapdragons and sweet peas. Dusty miller, alyssum, viola, dianthus, petunias and calendulas are other great cool weather choices. Remove dead vegetation from flowerbeds. Now is the time to determine what flowers you want to plant in early spring. Order seeds from catalogs or purchase your seed packets at local nurseries. By ordering early, you will be more certain to get the varieties you want.

Many trees, shrubs and plants are going into dormancy, so use restraint with fertilizers. Give your lawn a rest and it will be the better for it. Do not arbitrarily fertilize because you have read to do so; fertilize only after results from a soil test. You can cut back on fertilizing indoor plants from fall through late winter.

If you have wanted to plant a vegetable garden this fall but haven't gotten around to it, you could still plant lettuce, spinach and greens such as mustard greens. Lettuce especially could be planted in pots. Seed one pot and then about 10 days later plant another. By doing this two or three times, you could have a nice supply of lettuce for some time. If you planted cabbage in early October or transplanted it more recently, you should be on the lookout for cabbage loopers, fall season pests known to destroy leaves on cabbage and that are also pests to cole crops, such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale.

The cabbage looper, known for its "looping" action as it moves, has been reported recently with the destruction of plant leaves.  The looper is also considered a pest on cole crops such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale.

As with the flower seeds mentioned above, now is a good time to select vegetable seeds while most varieties are available.

November is the prime time to start collecting leaves for the compost pile. Be sure to have extra soil available so that each 6-inch layer of leaves will be covered with several inches of soil. Always wet the layer of leaves thoroughly before adding the soil. Add about 1 pound of a complete lawn or garden fertilizer to each layer of leaves to provide the necessary nitrogen for decomposition.

November is an all-around great month for getting in the yard. It is amazing how a little cool weather can rejuvenate a person - making working in the flower and vegetable beds a real pleasure. So, let's be adding compost to our beds, mulching and preparing new beds so that we will be ready to start spring planting when the time arrives. Remember, spring arrives pretty early in Texas.